Residents could see property tax bump

By Justin Reedy

Residents of unincorporated Clayton County likely won't see a net increase in their property tax rates in the coming year, but those who live inside city limits could see their rates rise.

In drafting its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts in July, the Clayton County government has to set its property tax millage rates for that year's tax bills.

And though county budget writers are redirecting revenue from one portion of the budget with no net increase to most taxpayers, the shift will cost people who live in cities within Clayton County.

The proposed budget n which still has to be approved by the county Board of Commissioners next month n calls for a slight increase in the county's general fund millage rate, which finances most general government operations. To offset that, the county's fire fund millage rate, which finances the Clayton County Fire Department, will decrease slightly.

But since the cities in Clayton County provide their own fire services, the fire fund portion of county property taxes is not collected from municipal property owners. So city residents will see an increase in their general fund property tax rate with no corresponding drop in the fire fund tax rate to offset it.

That budgetary shift n decreasing the fire fund and increasing the general fund n was necessary to meet the constraints of a tight budget year, according to Crandle Bray, chairman of the commission. The county can afford to trim the fire department's budget since it just got done building a new fire station and renovating two others, Bray said, and those capital expenses won't be in next year's budget.

Unfortunately, though, city residents will suffer a slight increase to their county property tax bills because of that.

"There wasn't any other way to do it," Bray said. "I'd like to give the cities a benefit, too."

If this budget draft is approved by the commission, the county's general fund millage rate would go up by .307 of a mill, while the fire fund would decrease by the same amount. One mill equals $1 in tax collected for each $1,000 in assessed value of property.

For the owner of a $150,000 home in one of the cities within Clayton County, a general fund increase of .307 mills would translate to an increase of about $16 in the owner's tax bill.

It seems clear that the move by the county is meant to collect more revenue from city residents, according to Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day.

"It's a way to pull more from residents of the cities, it sounds like," Day said. "But I can certainly understand the financial restraints the county is under."

Riverdale City Manager Billy Beckett hopes that the county will respond to the tax increase by boosting services to the municipal areas.

"If you combine a tax increase with a decrease in services, then that would be a bad thing," Beckett said. "On the other hand, if services go up, it's a good, positive thing."

The rate increase for city residents isn't necessarily a foregone conclusion, according to Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer, who lives in Lake City.

"That is unfortunate, and we probably need to look at that a little bit further," Rhodenizer said. "The cities are having the same budgetary problems the county is having."